Q. We leave in July for two months in Europe. I can live with only an iPad, but my husband works as a consultant even when we’re overseas. He is a bit uneasy about taking his computer, but also uneasy about not taking it because of a potential laptop ban. Should we be concerned?
A. The Department of Homeland Security has been mulling an expansion of its current ban on laptops (and other large electronic devices) inside carry-on luggage aboard certain international flights. Such a ban would be disruptive for travelers and has not been enacted at the moment, but planning ahead and preparing for such restrictions is a good idea in uncertain times.
Before you leave for your trip, be sure to check with the State Department’s website for any travel alerts or warnings concerning Europe and the specific countries you plan to visit. The agency also has a Facebook page and Twitter feed. The United States Customs and Border Protection site has a Know Before You Go section, and you should check with your airline about items that are specifically restricted from the cabin on your flight. The Transportation Security Administration has its own online list of items approved for air travel in carry-on and checked luggage.
If you think you may be in a position where you have to check any electronics larger than a smartphone, try to make your laptop, tablet or other device as theft-proof and secure as possible. Wrapping and sealing your device in padded plastic before packing it helps protect it from potentially rough handling and can also provide a clue as to whether the device was opened when it was out of your sight. When the cost is not too intimidating, shipping your gear separately to your destination with a courier service can also keep it out of more vulnerable checked luggage.
Apple, Google and Microsoft include a “find my device” feature for tracking your gear and remotely erasing it if it gets stolen, but be sure to turn on the setting before you go. Luggage-tracking gadgets and software tools for tracing bags (like the one in the Delta mobile app) exist, but those do not prevent someone from stealing your gadgets, planting malware on them or swiping personal data.
For safety against identity theft and other woes, delete any unneeded personal documents from the computer or tablet and protect it with a passcode. Make sure you are logged out of social media accounts and any sites that keep your credit card on file. Encrypting your hard drive with tools built into your operating system can also keep out casual intruders. Some versions of Windows include the BitLocker feature, and the Mac operating system has FileVault for disk encryption. Third-party security programs are also available. You should also create a full backup of your computer on an external drive or online storage site to protect your data.
Using a secure cloud service to store the files you need on the road is another way to keep them off your traveling hardware until you need the documents. Even older laptops and tablets can usually get to these sites, so consider taking retired equipment on your trip if you have any devices left from before your last upgrade.
If you do feel as if you need to get some work done on the road with online apps and services, packing an inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard to use with a smartphone or tablet can help the data entry go faster; cases and covers with integrated keyboards are also an option for many tablet models. Just make sure you have a secure network connection (like a virtual private network) or robust international cellular plan.
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